December 1, 2015

Meet 2015 MIT Sea Grant Knauss Fellow Casey Diederich

Casey Diederich is a 2015 MIT Sea Grant Knauss Fellow placed in Washington DC at the NOAA’s Office of International Affairs. He is finishing the last few months of this fellowship and we asked him to take a moment to reflect on the experience.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Casey earned his Ph.D. in Biology from Tufts University. He received his Master’s degree in Biology from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his bachelor’s degree in Biology and Philosophy from Boston College.

“My work at NOAA has been varied and exciting! I have done everything from write briefing materials for NOAA and Department of Commerce leadership, to coordinating NOAA involvement in major international meetings, to helping negotiate international scientific agreements,” Casey says. “In my position, I frequently work with international partners, inter-agency colleagues, NGOs, and others to promote NOAA’s mission and foster international collaboration.”

Please share a highlight or an accomplishment from your time as a fellow
You may have seen in the news recently that NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan signed a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, on marine protected area cooperation with Cuba. I was one of a small group of people that worked on this MOU from the time it was just a thought, all the way through various meetings with Cubans, drafting and revising the MOU, and getting it signed by our Administrator. Getting exposed to, and being able to contribute to, that sort of high-level, high-impact environmental policy process is something I’ll never forget!

What experience or skills have you gained as a Knauss fellow and how do you expect those to help with your future career?
There are really too many new skills to enumerate here. My fellowship experience has been a fantastic and welcome transition out of the academic setting. Not only have I gained experience on a host of different topics, especially in the international policy side of science, but I’ve learned how to operate in a fast-paced environment with extremely smart and dedicated co-workers. At times I’ve been asked to represent the agency in various meetings that I have had little time to prepare for; so I’d say the ability to think fast on your feet in important situations is one of the most valued skills I will leave the fellowship with.

What have been the greatest opportunities that have come out of the Knauss fellowship experience?
There are certainly a lot, but for me it has been the access to all sorts of different people, and the networking opportunities that go along with my daily job. I think I’ve met more people in my fellowship year than I did during my entire Ph.D. My office works across the various offices in NOAA, with NOAA and Department of Commerce leadership, with nearly all other U.S. federal agencies, with various NGOs and industry colleagues, and internationally. So, the exposure that that sort work environment affords has been the most exciting opportunity.

Why would you recommend that others apply for this fellowship?
It sounds like a cliché, but the fellowship really opens up a whole new world, especially for those with a hard science background. It’s a really unique opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, learn about new and exciting work going on in science policy, gain a lot of new skills, meet tons of people in a host of interesting fields, and launch your career in a new path.

What surprised you most about your experience as a fellow?
To be honest, what surprised me most was the responsibility that I was given by my office. When you hear the word “fellowship” you often think of a “learning experience.” And I have learned a lot, but my office has treated me as a full staff member. I currently serve as the NOAA POC for several important issues, like our interaction with Cuba, and our work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. A could not have imagined being in such a position a year ago, but the experience has been very rewarding.

After Knauss
Casey works as an Environmental Scientist at Arcadis in Buffalo, New York.

For more information about how to apply check out our fellowship page.